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Are you a performer?

22nd May 17 12:30 pm

This is what you need to know

As you read this article you are probably wondering to what extent it applies to you. Is performance not reserved for those super human beings occupying the upper echelons of human achievement? The truth is that regardless of your professional domain all of us are performing every day, in everything we do. All tasks we undertake are cognitive tests that tax the brain and require us to perform; there are mindless tasks but there are no brainless tasks. The brain’s intrinsic involvement in everything we do means that its health and wellbeing governs how we perform. In my last article I talked quite generally about the requirements for fostering performance, both physical and mental. Today I will discuss how your brain health governs your performance in everything you do.

Whether you are a professional athlete, medical professional or have a 9-to-5 office job you are a performer and you are performing. Like any performer you can have good and bad days. These are not simply chance occurrences however, they have a cause and an origin: the brain. Your performance is therefore a function of how well you look after your brain. Your brain is in control of everything, it is the master. It is the reason we think, feel and live. Ultimately all our needs ensure the brain is appropriately fed and cared for. It makes sense therefore that by keeping our brains in mind when we want to perform we can start to achieve some sort of consistency. This is discussed at length in the book and podcast by Dr John Sullivan and Chris Parker called ‘The Brain Always Wins’, a must read for anyone concerned with being at their best.

Elite athletes have been aware of this fact for a long time. They have strict diets, sleeping schedules and training regimes. They are careful not to over-train and make sure to plan sufficient rest and recovery time. Previously you might have thought they did this to rest their bodies, however as you now know it is just as important , if not more so, to rest the brain. This is where you come in. You must see yourself as an athlete with your brain at the helm. Even if only to understand that each time you stay up late to catch another episode of that Netflix series or have one too many you might not be on your A-game the next day. That is not to say we must all follow such a strict schedule but more that we must accept the outcome of sub-optimal preparation. The reality is that elite performers don’t have something you do not, it is simply that they have trained longer, harder and smarter than you have.

At the base of Maslow’s hierarchy (figure 1) which I introduced last week are all the basic physical needs. These include: Nutrition, Sleep, and Physical exertion amongst others. As you might have guessed these factors are important not just for the body but for the brain and therefore mind. The most important for performance are sleep and nutrition. Despite scientists not yet knowing exactly why sleep is so important we can all attest to feeling and performing better after a good night’s sleep. Sleep allows your brain to not only recover from a hard day’s work but to also consolidate what has been learnt that day. Eating and drinking might be a no-brainer (no pun intended) however your brain is much more precious with its energy than your body. Good nutrition is essential for brain health.

Figure 1 Maslow’s heirarchy of needs

So whether it’s at work, your weekly squash match or difficult conversations with business partners and loved ones, your performance matters. It can be improved by taking an honest look at how you look after yourself and your mind-set. These skills are transferrable and can improve every part of your life. In my next piece I will be talking about setting the stage for performance, going into more detail about the exact roles of sleep, nutrition and physical exertion in brain health and therefore everything we do. So until next time: keep calm and keep performing.

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